Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 6 – The Highways Agency

..what do you mean 'why has it got to be built?' It's a bypass! You've got to build bypasses...

Once upon a time Great Britain was a green and pleasant archipelago criss-crossed with a rich lattice work of highways and byways, footpaths and bridleways. However, successive car-centric policies over the decades in the name of progress has led not only to a massive expansion of highways, but the creation of environments extremely hostile to any other mode of transport.  

Carriageways were widened, then ‘upgraded’ to dual carriageways becoming motorways in all but name. Not only did they start to bypass the communities the original roads were meant to serve but severed the byways, bridleways and footpaths that would have continued to link communities, in turn leading to greater car-dependency. In the Worthing District of Sompting, close to where I live, the A27 has been so wonderfully ‘upgraded’ that to get to the houses, church and the South Downs to the north you can either run like Usain Bolt (which rules out a few parishioners) or drive a longer circuitous route. No bridge or underpass was provided.

These ‘Strategic Roads’ have also led to car-dependent development on Greenfield sites such as out of town shopping centres & business parks leading to urban srpawl.

Nowadays, Trunk Roads and Motorways are overseen by the Highways Agency.  Whereas Cycling England was a Quango, the Highways Agency is ‘An Executive Agency of the Department for Transport’. They have a big shiny website, with updates on closures either due to road works, incompetent driving or genuine accidents. They have Regional Control Centres  resembling Cape Canaveral (except instead of directing man to the moon, they’re directing mankind around Swindon) and people looking very smart and knowledgeable in suits and High Visibility tabards – essential wear if you want to look official.

They have a vision too:

‘We have a vision for our Agency to be:

‘The world’s leading road operator’

We have set five goals which will indicate progress to achieving this vision:

  • We provide a service that our customers can trust
  • We set the standard for delivery
  • We deliver sustainable solutions
  • Our roads are the safest in the world
  • Our network is a dynamic and resilient asset

To realise this stretching vision, and to guarantee continued service delivery in tougher times, we are developing our organisation to meet the significant challenges that we face. At the Highways Agency we are proud of the progress that we have made to increase our commercial awareness, develop and deliver innovative solutions, and build the capability of our workforce. Moving forward, we will demonstrate a broader range of skills, and be flexible to satisfy our customers’ and stakeholders’ range of expectations.’

Brings a tear to the eye doesn’t it?

One problem is that the Highways Agency (and Traffic Police) really believes the hype and Management Speak. Calling it a ‘Strategic Road Network’ with its ‘Innovative Solutions’ really gives all that use it and work on it that wonderful warm glow of overblown self importance – and yet more chances to wear high-viz tabards.

God, I'm Important!

In the section of their website dedicated to cycling, walking and equestrians, they set their mission statement out as follows (and I’ve provided a few links to articles within which might be of interest):

I know. It’s bringing a tear to the other eye isn’t it?

In reality, if you are a cycle campaigner, you will rarely encounter the Highways Agency unless a major new road scheme or ‘upgrade’ is planned. Their remit covers Motorways and Trunk Roads – not all ‘A’ Roads. When you do however, they will regard you with even greater contempt (from experience) than Council Highways Engineers as they have an even greater desire to get you off their roads and onto infrastructure, however crappy and dangerous. As cyclists, you don’t fit into Big Strategic Road Networks For Rapid Big Vehicles And Executives On Big Business. Like encounters with local Highway Departments cycling doesn’t fit into computer generated models.

Even if everone was driving happily within the speed limit, Trunk Roads are simply not that pleasant to cycle on with their pollution, noise, overpriced refreshment stops and proximity to fast moving traffic.  There could have been separate parallel cycle provision such as in the Netherlands. It could have linked up now cessated Bridleways and Byways and keeping vital, pleasant quieter links between cities, towns and villages.

A problem resulting from Trunk Roads and Motorways that you will encounter as a campaigner is that other road options for pedestrians & cyclists become less pleasant too. When road building projects occur (such as the A34 Newbury Bypass) they are justified by claiming that they relieve congestion elsewhere. More often than not, the reverse happens but by the time a report has come out (if you get to see it) the local surrounding roads have become more dangerous and the trunk road is perceived as inaccessible to all but the most dedicated club cyclists and time triallists.

As Noel Coward might have elegantly warbled, ‘Only Mad Dogs and Clubmen go out on a Trunk Road Run’

SPENDING REVIEW UPDATE! It looks as though the A11 ‘Upgrade’ in East Anglia  is to go ahead. This £134m scheme (up from £115m) will apparently save 3 minutes on off peak journeys! Upgrade of course means conversion to dual carriageway making it really unpleasant for anything other than a motor vehicle.  

Freewheeler has posted on the A11 in the past.

As someone has quipped on the CTC Forum,

‘Personally I think £115 million to save three minutes of my time is well worth it – my time is valuable. And in case anyone is worried about the stress and lack of exercise-related illnesses likely to arise from the new road, the government has also announced that the NHS budget is to be ring fenced. So good news all round.’

It’s like Thatcher never left!

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Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 5 – ’20’s Plenty’

I can't wait to hear the Conservative Party reason for eventually scrapping this idea

Before we get started, The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to make the following announcement:

IF YOU START A ‘20’s PLENTY’ CAMPAIGN IN YOUR AREA, FOR THE SWEET LOVE OF VICTORIA PENDLETON DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE IT A CYCLING CAMPAIGN.

A little while ago, my local paper (Worthing Herald) launched an online poll as to whether we should have 20mph as the default in the town. I assume they were expecting ‘poor beleaguered motorists’ to be up in arms resulting in a juicy battle of words on the internet and the letters page. Their pages are usually choked like a peak time school run with moans about NCP as they control the parking in Worthing (so you would assume that high parking costs would be a good incentive to encourage walking and cycling but that’s another story).

Imagine everyone’s surprise when a majority voted in favour of such a scheme. As this would mean printing something positive, the story was dropped like a stone. However, the fact remained that people supported the idea of safer, more pleasant streets.

The principle of 20’s Plenty is simple; instead of having small 20mph zones outside schools, hospitals and shopping areas which are always ignored, make 20mph the default speed limit across a wider area with the exception of strategic or arterial roads which remain at 30 or 40.

The benefits are potentially numerous; reduced casualty rates, walking and cycling suddenly looking like better and safer options for getting around, school zones would be linked to the residential areas that children would be walking/cycling in from and as a result, people would be able to engage with their communities again increasing well being and stronger neighbourhoods.

Basically returning to how things used to be before the car took control.

Although another benefit is the potential reduction of  ‘rat running’ which bedevils many residential streets, The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club thinks that this should eventually go further with the layout of such streets being changed with planting schemes and removal of street markings – in essence to return more pleasant streets back to their residents and physically keep people off the accellerator pedal. It’s not enough to say that a default 20mph limit negates the need for traffic calming. It would have a very positive effect on property prices if you needed another positive.

In the Netherlands, over 60% of residential roads are 30kph (18mph) making them much more pleasant for walking and cycling. Its been claimed that on average casualties have dropped by 70%. It must be stated at this point however, that changes to Dutch traffic laws ” require motorists to anticipate unsafe walking and cycling.” If a car-bike collision involves a child or a elderly person, “the motorist is usually judged to be entirely at fault.” “When a crash is caused by an illegal move by a cyclist or a pedestrian, the motorist is almost always judged to be partly at fault.” If you or your campaign group were to succeed in implementing that over here, you would have testicles or the female equivalent the size of Wiltshire and I would fight for a Bank Holiday to commemorate your valour.

In regard to my announcement at the beginning of this post, this is clearly a campaign that could benefit everyone except fans of ‘Top Gear’. Make sure that any 20’s Plenty campaign you instigate or get involved with remains totally separate from cycle campaigning. Many people still regard cycling as something weird people do involving funny clothing or even no clothing at all They have to be allowed to draw their own conclusions and reap their own benefits.

The reason I’m writing this in such an enthusiastic way is because Worthing Borough Council voted unanimously this week to get the 20mph ball rolling in our town. They have also changed a Traffic Regulation Order reducing the requirement for signage which reduces the potential project cost by a sizable margin (to roughly the same cost of running Cycling England for a year, I believe). Basically they’re making 20mph the default limit unless signed otherwise.

For further information please go to the 20’s Plenty for Us Website

To see what’s been happening in Worthing as a good campaigning example, their website is here.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 4 – Highways Departments & Cycling Officers

St. Ig - The Patron Saint of County Council Highways Departments

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS AN OFFENSIVE ACRONYM

In the same way that the Department for Transport had Cycling England to keep at arms length at national level, so it holds with Highways Departments and Cycling Officers at County Council level.

From a cycle campaigning perspective, Highways Officers are often like Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army; often spoken of but never seen. You will however be familiar with their work all around you from stunning seaside paths to safe, direct town centre links. You get the chance to comment when these incredible schemes have already been designed and programmed to be built. This is called ‘consultation’ to compliment their range of extensive sustainable strategy consultation solutions, as we have seen before.

You may be lucky enough in your campaign group to get a visit from the County Cycling Officer. This role has to be the most tragic in Local Government; if they were put anywhere else in the World of cycling, they would be a valuable asset as they are usually very nice, proactive people with an exhaustive knowledge of cycling infrastructure. They probably thought they could join their council with a view to changing things for the cycling good before encountering deeply car-centric Local Councillors and a Highways Department that sees cycling infrastructure as something poor people or vegans with a fetish for beads might use. The job role ends up being a combination of Harbinger of Doom and Eunuch. They are sent to cycling forums and meetings for the following reasons;

  • to explain why the crappy scheme set out before you is being built and why you should consider yourselves lucky to have it.
  • because the highways departments know that the schemes are crap and can’t be bothered to hear feedback, however constructive, for future schemes as cyclists demands will only push project costs up and goes against their training.
  • to explain why the entire cycling budget has been cut and is now reliant on Developers money.
  • to tell you why your hopes and dreams of a modal shift toward to cycling using proven continental methods will never happen. This will be told with a simmering, but castrated fury (Male Officers) or a simmering, but close to tears look (Female Officers).

It would be wrong to say that all Highways Departments are hostile to cycling and walking; some are certainly hostile, but many simply don’t know how to cater for other non-motorised transport modes (that ironically were there first). Cycling doesn’t fit into their engineering education with all its computer generated models and road enhancement guidelines. As a result, they shovel cyclists off the roads onto converted pavements, thinking they are doing the right thing in the name of road safety, without taking any road space from motorists. Cycling, as a result, becomes more dangerous and unappealing to the masses. Cyclists choosing to remain on the roads (that they also pay for) sometimes get verbal or physical abuse from motorists and simply face a more dangerous road environment due to motorists not expecting anything else to be there.

In summary, I like to affectionately call them Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes and I think you should too. A wonderful example of Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes may be found in Waltham Forest and for Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes at their worst across the UK, you must visit Pete Owen’s magnificent compilation for Warrington Cycle Campaign here.

Deepest apologies for the harsh acronym. But I’m right.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 3 – The Cycling Action Travel Plan Strategy Solution

Sometimes a dog will gnaw away at something it shouldn’t. I’ve found that the best way to distract the dog is to find a nice stick and throw it, instantly releasing the thing that you don’t want gnawed. This is basically the same attitude that the Government & Local Authorities take with cycle campaigners.

The stick in this case is usually a document that either ends in ‘Action Plan’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Travel Plan’ or that perennial favourite, the Local Transport Plan (LTP). Cycle campaigners sometimes get very excited by such documents. Some will even have copies of the original ‘Action Plan’ or ‘Strategy’. These will often be between 10 and 20 years old and incredibly long and verbose with pictures of people in stonewash jeans on Raleigh touring or shopper bikes.

When I worked at CTC, there used to be regular meetings where we would all discuss what was happening in each department and what was happening in the wider World of cycling. Although I have the utmost respect and admiration for Roger Geffen (CTC Campaigns Director), my heart would sink when he would enthusiastically outline CTC’s involvement in the latest Government Cycling Strategy or 10 Year Plan. If I closed my eyes I could hear the Ministers saying ‘fetch the stick cyclists! Fetch! Go on! Over there!

Some of you may have just responded to your local authorities Local Transport Plan (or LTP3). This document will mention the word ‘sustainable’ quite a lot along with the usual airy fairy commitment to reducing carbon and regeneration. However, you will realise as you read further that to a Highways Department, this is best achieved by sorting out traffic bottlenecks to ease congestion on their strategic road network – in essence, not looking at the sheer amount of cars as a problem and using engineering to try and arrive at a solution. In the past, it would have been Bypasses, Inner Relief Roads and the stunning decision that dual carriageways in town and city centres would be a good idea to relieve congestion. Nowadays, with reduced budgets, it just involves expensive consultation fees and tinkering around the edges.

These documents will mention cycling in the same way that Samuel Beckett mentioned Godot. It will use phrases such as ‘upgrading infrastructure’ and ‘linking networks in town centres’ in a beautifully ethereal way but won’t actually commit to reducing car space in favour of walking and cycling, which is the solution.

As far as cycle infrastructure is concerned, there needs to be a concerted push for a National Standard based preferably on the Dutch model, which favours better streetscape design and segregated facilities where appropriate – basically giving the streets back to the residents. Until then we should be telling Local Authorities NOT to proceed with any more Cycle Paths or Shared Use Facilities as they are nearly always badly compromised by developers and Highway Departments’ agendas and designed by Rolf Harris on ecstasy.

Can you tell what it is yet? (Picture from Weird Cycle Lanes of Brighton & Hove)

For the moment, like Beckett’s famous characters, we’re left waiting, being treated like tramps on the roadside for an answer that will never appear if we continue with this drivel. Until the next round of Local Transport Plan Consultation or Government Cycling Action Travel Strategy, of course! Maybe THIS time will be different!!

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No. 2 – ‘Road Safety’

Of course, they're sitting far too close to a rural road. They need high-viz and eye protectors and...

A curious one this. You probably thought road safety meant safety to all road users. You may have given a lot of thought to your local area and how difficult it looks to get around by bicycle and how dangerous it seems just to get to work or the shops. Being a nice, sane person, you want to do something about it like start a campaign group. Welcome to the insane World of Road Safety.

The whole concept of road safety is fundamentally flawed for these very simple reasons; Motorised traffic is treated as though they were on the roads first, the motorists themselves think that they exclusively pay for the roads. Therefore cyclists and pedestrians are merely guests that have to take all safety precautions necessary for what is increasingly regarded as a dangerous environment. The fact that cyclists and pedestrians were there first, that motorists don’t pay for the roads and that, unlike motorists, cyclists and pedestrians actually have the right to be there tends to get completely and utterly overlooked.

The Government, the Department for Transport and Councils across the land bang on about their commitment to sustainable transport and road safety where of course what they actually mean is a commitment to sustainable transport and road safety as long as it doesn’t annoy the ‘poor beleaguered motorist’ (voters) and the motoring lobby. A motoring lobby that advertises extensively in all national and local newspapers, radio and TV stations (also sponsoring documentaries – nice touch and what you need for unbiased subject matter).

The result is that if a car crashes, the road ‘engineering’ is examined and yet incredibly, no-one questions the car. There is widespread approval amongst the general public for schemes such as 20mph in urban areas (thereby linking school zones which are generally ignored with the residential areas that children could walk or cycle in from) or speed cameras and yet these are seen as part of an arsenal in the ‘War on the Motorist’. No-one questions that metal boxes weighing a ton traveling at speed is a problem that needs to be directly addressed. Instead, the onus of road safety falls on the most vulnerable, requiring helmets and high visibility tabards. Why?

If you are in a campaign group you will find that Highways Engineers will be all too happy to shovel you off the roads in the name of road safety but onto barely converted pavements with bicycle symbols on them, rendering cycling even more dangerous and circuitous. You will only find out about these plans when its too late and the work has been designed, signed off and programmed. Another thing you’ll notice, and a fundamental failure of Government, DfT and Councils is that at no point is space ceded by motorists. This has got to stop.

I’ve come to regard cycling as the beaten partner in the relationship of road users; cyclists are sometimes subject to verbal and physical abuse from bigger, more powerful assailants. Cyclists are often made to feel that the deaths and serious injuries that occur are their fault and if they get hit they only have themselves to blame.  Cycling has to consider itself lucky to get its tiny amounts of housekeeping money. The assailant in all this portrays themselves cunningly as the victim manipulating facts to allow them to continue killing and injuring with relative impunity. Finally, there’s the fact that cyclists keep going back for more, being faithfully and hopelessly devoted.

It’s time to find a new lover. Maybe something a bit more exotic and European. Dutch or Danish maybe?

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 1 – ‘Section 106 Money’

 

Please Sir, I want more crappy cycle infrastructure.

 

Yesterday evening I attended a local cycle campaign meeting where we were lucky enough to have the County Cycling Officer present. She kept quoting ‘Section 106 monies’ for cycling schemes as there clearly isn’t a direct budget for cycling at the moment.

In case you may have attended cycle forums or meetings yourself and heard this phrase without fully understanding what it means, or you’re curious to find out how cycling budgets really work, I’ll try and define it below.

Wikipedia Definition

‘Section 106 (S106) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows a local planning authority (LPA) to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission. The obligation is termed a ‘Section 106 Agreement’.

These agreements are a way of delivering or addressing matters that are necessary to make a development acceptable in planning terms. They are increasingly used to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as highways, recreational facilities, education, health and affordable housing.

..Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be:

  • relevant to planning
  • necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms
  • directly related to the proposed development
  • fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development 
  • reasonable in all other respects.

A council’s approach to securing benefits through the S106 process should be grounded in evidence-based policy. ‘

Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Definition

It allows a Council to shift its already meagre cycling budget to other more ‘pressing’ things (like pothole repair) with the promise of lots of Section 106 money for new facilities. Thus cycling infrastructure in many Local Authorities is at the mercy of pockets of cash dotted around the area, linked to where new developments are. If you’re lucky, they will try and build facilities that tie in with their ‘Cycling Strategy’, which might be an overly long, verbose document that’s woefully out of date  as they couldn’t commit funding or resource to update it.

When you start asking the Local Authority as to why you are just relying on Section 106 money they may launch into Middle Management spiel about cuts and times being hard. When you point out that cycling budgets were miniscule when times were good, there usually follows a bit of an awkward silence. If you are in a campaign group, the term ‘Section 106’ may have been used a lot recently, particularly when the recession first kicked in and the Local Authorities realised that they had a lot of capital tied up in Icelandic banks.

This type of funding is piecemeal at best and is just one of the wonderful reasons why we have the poorly designed, sketchy and dangerous infrastructure that exists currently.